How to Use Your Cell Phone in Italy (Yes, You Can!)

Just because you're surrounded by ancient ruins... doesn't mean you can't be plugged in!

Brought your cell phone with you to Italy? Great. Now, how the heck do you use it?

First, let’s clear up a little misunderstanding many people have about their mobile phones in Italy: Almost all of your cell phones should work. Yes, even American cell phones. To make sure, check to see if your cell phone supports GSM 900 and GSM 1800 frequencies.

Here, though, is the trick: Unless you’ve set up an international package with your provider, making phone calls in Italy could be pretty expensive. So make sure you call your provider before you go to figure out how to arrange cheaper calls while abroad.

Another option — and one that will probably be more economical, at least for calling Italian phone numbers — is getting an Italian SIM card. That gives you your own Italian number, which is very useful: If you’re calling Italian numbers, you’re obviously being charged domestic rates, and your provider back home has nothing to do with it. And although most people say “Wait, I’m on vacation. What Italian number would I be calling?,” trust us: It can come in handy. If, say, you’re trying to make restaurant reservations, find out museum hours, or even if you’re running late for a tour and want to let the company know, you’ll be glad you got that Italian number.

Your cell phone has to be “unlocked” in order to install a new SIM card, but most American cell phones are. To check, make sure that you can open up the back of your phone and take out the little chip there yourself. And buying a SIM card is a lot easier to do than it seems. Just walk into any cell phone store — TIM, Vodafone, and Wind are three of the most popular — and ask for a SIM card. You can buy one for as little as 5 euros, which gives you 5 euros worth of calls. Make sure you bring some form of identification with you when you go. (Remember, if you’re non-E.U., you’re supposed to have a passport on you at all times in Italy anyway).

If, at any point during your stay, you find yourself running out of credit, you can simply walk into a tabaccaio, as well as many supermarkets and ATMs, to “top up” your phone. Just ask for a ricarica and make sure you say who your provider is and how much money you want.

Another option you have is just buying an Italian cell phone. You can get a phone, with 10 euros already loaded as credit, for as cheap as 30 euros. That way, you don’t have to worry about if your own phone is unlocked or about switching SIM cards back and forth. And if you ever travel elsewhere in Europe, Africa, or the Middle East, you can switch out the SIM card and use the same phone. Because having your own Italian phone number is so handy, and so much cheaper, we generally recommend that you get your own SIM card or Italian cell phone if you are in the country for five days or more.

But what if you haven’t bought a SIM card, or don’t want to, and you need to make a call from your U.S. cell phone to a non-Italian number? Here’s how you’d do it.

To call an Italian phone number from a U.S. or any other non-Italian cell phone:

1. Dial +. Your cell phone “knows” to replace that + with the international access code that you need to dial out of the U.S. to another country. Every cell phone has a + button; it’s usually the same button as the 0 or the *. To access it, try holding down either the 0 or the *, or double-tapping one of the two buttons.

2. Dial 39. That’s Italy’s country code.

3. Dial the rest of the number. Include the first 0. (When calling other countries, you drop that 0).

So: If someone hands you a card that says their Italian number is 0123456789, then, from your U.S. cell phone, even if you’re in Italy, you dial +39 0123456789. Got it?

To call a U.S. or other non-Italian phone number from an Italian phone:

If you’ve bought an Italian SIM card and are now trying to call the United States or another country other than Italy, here’s what to do.

1. Dial 00. That’s Italy’s international access code. If you’re dialing from an Italian cell phone (or your phone with an Italian SIM), you can often just dial the +, no access code needed.

2. If you’re calling the U.S., dial 1, the U.S. country code. If you’re calling another country, dial that country’s code (61 for Australia, 44 for England, 00 for Canada).

3. Dial the rest of the number.

Easy!

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20 Responses to How to Use Your Cell Phone in Italy (Yes, You Can!)

  1. Giovanna May 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Just a key point – for Verizon Wireless Customers you will need to obtain a Global Ready in over 220 countries device. They still are only about a 1/3 of the device line up. If you don’t own one, and you are not eligible for an upgrade, you can BORROW a Global Ready Phone for your vacation. Dial *611 from your phone and tell the Customer Service Rep that you need to use the Global Travel Program. They will send you a device, you will be charged for your usage only. When you return, ship the device back and up re-activate your own phone. Make sure you get the Global Value Plan to keep costs down. These devices are not eligible for SIM Unlock with another carriers sim card.

    In general – experience my fiance and I had – AT & T would NOT unlock his iphone 3 for use with another carriers sim card. So the absolute best bet if you want in country calling rates is to go to Italy and by a prepaid simple cell phone if you are in the AT & T iPhone 3 donut hole where they never required Apple to provide them with the SIM Unlock process and codes for these devices.

    Good luck and happy travels!

    • walksofitaly May 30, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Thanks for the extra tips, Giovanna! Different networks have peculiarities, network locking and phone locking example can both be troublesome… so there’s a lot more to be said on this subject. We’ll post more useful information on cell phones, data roaming, wifi, gps and more for travelers to Italy soon!

  2. Ja9 April 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Maybe I didn’t read this right, but did you give guidance on how to call a U.S. number
    from a U.S. cell phone while in Italy? If not,
    could you enlighten me? I need all the help
    I can get. :) Thanks, Janine E.

    • Walks of Italy May 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

      Hi Janine,
      We know it can be confusing! :-) You’re right, we didn’t explain it. Here’s what you would do:

      1. Dial +.
      2. Dial 1, the US country code.
      3. Dial the rest of the number.

      So, if you’re calling (202) 123-4567, from a US phone in Italy, you’d dial +1 2021234567.

      Let us know if we can help with anything else!

      • David Hostetler May 15, 2013 at 2:16 am #

        Will apps that are on my Verizon IPhone 4 work in Italy? I have some translation apps. Will they work? Angry Birds? Etc.

        Thanks in advance

        Dave

        • Walks of Italy June 1, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

          Hi Dave,
          They should work as long as you’ve signed up for a data plan that works abroad. (Make sure you’ve looked into plans, as many international/travel plans can be quite expensive!). Let us know if we can answer anything else!

  3. Kenzie June 24, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Before my trip to Italy, is there anything I need to make sure of so that I will be able to text my family that is in the U.S while I’m there?
    Thanks,
    Kenzie

    • Walks of Italy July 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      Hi Kenzie,
      Only the same things you’d need to keep in mind to call the US from Italy; you’ll have to put in the same number in the same way whether it’s a text message or a call.
      Let us know if we can help with anything else!

  4. Bill July 27, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    What about a Trac Fone? How does that work in Italy, or does it?

    • Walks of Italy August 7, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      Hi Bill,
      It doesn’t look like the Trac Fone works in Italy, but the pay-as-you-go system is easily replicated here—you’d just have to buy a cheap cell phone at any cell store (they cost as little as 29 euros), then a SIM card and top it up as you go (you can start at just 10 euros for the card + 5 euros of credit). Please let us know if we can help with anything else!

  5. Alex August 8, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    FYI, country code for Canada is 1, dial it like you would for the States.

  6. Angie August 29, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Please could you confirm what is the correct input method to call the following number, whilst in italy, using my T-Mobile UK smart phone . If the number I will be calling is 0039 338******* do I enter 039 338******* or do I enter +39 338*******
    I would be greatful for any advice thank you

    • Walks of Italy September 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      Hi Angie,
      Easiest is to enter + followed by 39 etc., as your cell phone “knows” what to put in instead of the +. So you’d enter +39 338… etc.
      Let us know if we can answer anything else!

  7. Anita Lanzi September 28, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    You don’t really cover how to call italian numbers -both land lines and cell phones -from an american phone that has an Italian sim card.

    • Walks of Italy September 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Hi Anita,
      That’s because an American phone with an Italian SIM is for all intents and purposes an “Italian phone”.

      If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

  8. Giovanni Smith November 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Good article but I would like to add that more and more people, like myself, are interested in using their cell phones for data and less for making calls. I have an unlocked iPhone with Verizon. The year before when I went to Italy I just didn’t use the phone except for emergencies (and I STILL got a phone bill for a couple hundred bucks). So, doing some research, I found out that the best solution is to get a local SIM card which I did online before my trip.I got an Italian SIM that I think that is was something like $50 for 1GB of data which is certainly less than the $25 per 100 mb with Verizon. I used Skype to call back to the US by the way for $0.02 per minute. I ordered an Italian SIM card online at a company called Cellular Abroad. one caveat is that I didn’t know that I had to order a micro SIM card so I had to send mine back and get a micro SIM. Good experience and worth checking out.

    What do you recommend for my iPad, which is 3G?
    thanks!
    GS

    • Walks of Italy January 17, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      Hi there,
      Your iPad will work on wireless; otherwise, you can actually go through the same process and get a micro SIM for your iPad, as far as we know.
      Let us know how it works out!

  9. Frank Vitale January 24, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Hi, I want to give my ATT US iPhone 4s to a friend in Italy. Does the phone need to be jailbroke or something else before they can put their sim card in it and use it there? Thank you for your help.

    • Walks of Italy January 29, 2014 at 1:44 am #

      Hi Frank,
      Unfortunately, US iPhones are locked, so the iPhone will have to be jailbroken and unlocked, which isn’t always so easy. Good luck!

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